Two photos, two approaches - highlights v shadows

Started Sep 13, 2012 | Discussions thread
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jkjond
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Two photos, two approaches - highlights v shadows
Sep 13, 2012

I tucked this away in a different thread, so thought it worth repeating in a thread of its own. This is a slightly expanded version.

My approach is to capture enough on location and get on with it at home.

For landscapes that generally means ETTR, as there aren't that many instances where I can afford to lose the highlights. For weddings there is more scope for blowing highlights if the real story is in the shadows.

My two main principles are that I can't manipulate data you don't have, and I'm not going to sacrifice my low brain power on location on technical details that don't interest me.

So manual all the way (┬▒EV is a recipe for confusion), check histogram and blinkies... but the most important part of that operation is to check composition too. Auto wb as I'm never going to remember to change it from scene to scene. After a stint of auto iso I've found I'd rather keep control of that setting otherwise I lose control of other settings too.

The other principle is that iso and underexposure are a powerful team once you accept that amplification in camera isn't hugely different to amplification on the computer. That means that if your camera has sufficient dr, such as all the new ones, there's gold in them there shadows (even if I later choose to process it out anyway). As cameras and software improve, then the shadow end of the exposure becomes less of a concern... but blow those highlights and they're gone forever on any camera.

Skill level is a curious area. Software is gradually deskilling photography. Each advancement is making processes more and more accessible - and look at all the taggy on bits such as Silver Effex. People are producing results they could only dream of just a couple of years ago. Yup, there are some great plugins available, but do feel they remove the photographer from the process. I like being hands on.

Start of interesting section:

Landscape example where the highlights were all that mattered in camera, so goodbye shadows.

I could have gone hdr, and it would have been awful, and to be honest, I'd rather stick pins in my eyes. The technical thinking on location amounts to base iso (I now read -0.3 is actually better still), enough dof for hyperfocus (checked by trial and error test exposures as dof tables are meaningless when applied to the lens's inadequate distance scale), camera level on both axis to control horizon and verticals (vertical not essential for this landscape, but a superwide does distort the extremes), grad ND (I think this used a 2 stop) to bring the sky within reach of the other detail. The other technical point was to ensure the tripod was rock solid, it is easy to overlook this in listing details as its not negotiable. Pretty easy on a relatively calm day stood on a rock base.

Had it been windy, for improved stability, I'd have either lowered or splayed the tripod legs more, and stood to shelter the rig if possible, holding onto any straps to stop them vibrating and maybe dangling weights below. On softer ground I'd have dug the legs in as much as possible - essential if stood in the surf on a sandy beach as the camera will slowly sink though once dug in it tends to be surprisingly stable.

Composition in landscape is the all important element on location. You can crop back home, but preferable to only do that in one axis or you are throwing away pixels. I didn't take this shot specifically for a square crop, the composition is the simple photographic formula of foreground interest, nice background - decent sky so get that in. It is surprising how flexible the final crop can be if the elements are working together - subject is always king.

Timing is reasonably flexible, though the clouds were changing so a second exposure would have had a very different feel. It is mpossible to second guess the lighting with moving cloud and a 10 minute exposure, especially in Scotland where the start of the exposure could look like mid summer in the Seychelles, while the end of the exposure could be from the north pole in a winter snowstorm. In this instance, the distant hills varied throughout the afternoon from dark shadow to bright sunshine.

Wedding example where the shadows contained the information. So its goodbye highlights.

The blown highlights are an important part of this story as they give contextual information and add atmosphere. Technical thinking on location in order of priority - avoid camera shake - test exposure before proceedings to see how I'm performing, easy here as I was sat on the floor using my built in tripod (elbows on knees) for support. There are a number of situations where I'll compromise shooting height if it enables me to find a firm brace and keep things sharp. Highest acceptable iso from the camera used as it was pretty dark in there, resultant aperture slightly less that ideal for a group, but hey, that's weddings.

No flash, this is a dark room and people are watching a slide show, they're not posing for a pain in the neck photographer - and flash would have been very difficult to add without destroying the character of the image. Composition slides down the scale - timing becomes the key decision on location. The final shot is improved greatly when I crop a slice off the bottom (not least because it loses the distraction in the bottom left corner), but shown here in its entirety.

Needless to say, raw essential for both for all those extra bits of information, though neither of these were heavily processed.
--
UK wedding photographer in the Lake District
http://www.johnleech-weddingphotography.co.uk or http://www.jlwp.co.uk

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